This is a little unusual for a Charles Lenox novel, he ends up in America at the request of the British Prime Minister. Disraeli wants Lenox out of the country during a trial involving officers of Scotland Yard.
Giving in to his early dreams of travel, Lenox eventually accedes to the P.M.'s request and travels to New York.
After a short stay in N.Y., Lenox is to travel to meet some colleagues in Boston, accompanied by Teddy Blaine, a young man from one of the wealthiest families in America who is interested in becoming a detective. The journey is interrupted when the train is stopped and Lenox is handed a letter pleading with him to come to New Port, R.I. (then as now, the summer homes of the ultra rich) to solve the murder of a young debutante.
In New Port, Lenox goes about interviewing folks from all spectrums of society, from Vanderbilts to kitchen staff with the occasional presence of Teddy Blaine, in his attempts to solve the murder. Some of his thoughts are revealed in the letters he writes to his wife Lady Jane, his brother Edmund, and his close friend Graham.
As always, Charles Finch reveals segments of Victorian society, but this outing reveals elements of the American Gilded Age, that time between the end of the Civil War and before the turn of the century. The opulence, the fantastic wealth, the summer "cottages" with 70 to 100+ rooms (and all of the servants required to maintain them) is touched on as Lennox observes New Port's stunning affluence.
In addition to the mystery plot, I learned the origin of the word "shrapnel" and the phrase "heard it through the grapevine." Lt. Henry Shrapnel invented an artillery shell that fragmented in 1803 and the Grapevine Tavern in N.Y. was a place where Union officers and Confederate spies mingled during the Civil War. Thus, the source of news, information, gossip, and rumors was through the Grapevine.
There was also a brief reference to Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879), the British photographer considered one of the most important portraitists of the time. I was familiar with her portraits of Julia Jackson Duckworth, Cameron's niece, otherwise I wouldn't have caught this one sentence reference.
Another great outing with Finch's Charles Lenox and the expectation of some changes in the future.
Read in October; blog post scheduled for March 23, 2021.
NetGalley/St. Martin's Press
Historical Mystery. Feb. 10, 2020. Print length: 288 pages.